By Thomas Gerbasi
Given the twists and turns Tevin Farmer has navigated throughout his life, it’s hard to believe that he’s only 28 years old. It’s difficult for him to fathom as well.
“It’s crazy,” he laughs. “I had so many different stories it does seem like I’m older than 28. I feel old, though.”
Maybe old isn’t the right word. Experienced. Wise. Those may be better terms, since old folks usually aren’t walking around with IBF junior lightweight world title belts around their waist like Farmer is. And he might not even be in his prime yet.
“I believe it,” he said. “I think when I reach 30 or 31, I’ll be in my prime at that age. I’m still learning on the job every day and it’s just scary.”
The most scared should be the men in line to face him for that belt, the first being Northern Ireland’s James Tennyson, who battles Farmer in Boston’s TD Garden this Saturday. It may not be the ideal situation for the champion, facing an Irishman in Boston, but if anyone is unbothered by such scenarios, it’s Farmer, who was the B-side for much of a career that began in 2011. So though you may assume he’s now the man with a target on his back, the way he tells it, that’s always been the case.
“I was always the guy with the target on my back, but from a different perspective,” Farmer explains. “Now I’m the guy that everybody wants their shot at and wants to beat. But in the beginning, I was a target, but in a different way, as in they didn’t want to see me win or succeed. And anything they could do to prevent me from that, that’s what would happen.”
Farmer’s inability to get any breaks in the early stages of his career wasn’t a mystery, considering that he fought with sublime skills that often went unappreciated by judges, fans and his peers. Starting out late and going 4-3-1 in his first eight pro fights didn’t help either. Yet even as the wins piled up and he began turning things around, the boxing biz was slow to come around and get behind him or at least give him a level playing field.
“I just think that people looked at the way I fought, and for me to start at such a late age, they looked at me like, ‘wow, this guy’s good; why does he deserve this?’ I guess they’d rather push the other guys that were doing it for a long time.”
That never stopped Farmer, Philly tough in all the best ways, and after a 2012 loss to Jose Pedraza, he compiled 18 consecutive wins, a mark that eventually couldn’t be ignored.
“It never slowed me down,” he said. “What people think about me really don’t matter – the cream will always rise to the top. The only thing I had to do was keep working hard and things will happen.”
Yet all the disrespect came to a head in December of last year, when Farmer faced Kenichi Ogawa for the vacant IBF title. After 12 rounds, he apparently did enough to win his first world championship. Two judges disagreed, not shocking at this point in Farmer’s career.
Nine months later, in August of this year, he got a second crack at that crown, in Australia against Australia’s Billy Dib. The stage was set for more officiating nonsense, but Farmer wasn’t concerned.
“I didn’t worry one bit,” he said. “It’s boxing, so some things you have to do and some things you can’t control, and I never really worry about things I can’t control. I had to go over there and put on a show. Whether they give it to me or not, I had to go fight. I got robbed in my own backyard, so I didn’t really care about being in his backyard. I’d rather get robbed in his backyard than my own. I already got the worst decision I could ever get, so I was okay with it.”
This time, the judges got it right, with scores of 120-107, 119-108 and 118-109 confirming Mr. Farmer as a world champion. In a sport filled with enough bad news, this was a turn of events that made even the most skeptical fight fans smile. And Farmer knew it.
“I know for a fact that a lot of people were happy for me, so I definitely got that impression,” he said. “I get a lot of love throughout the world because of my story and what I’ve been through, and I appreciate that.”
He admits that being a world champion didn’t sink in until he was deep into this training camp for Tennyson, and while his focus hasn’t changed, he knows that being the underdog throughout most of his career guarantees that he won’t get caught napping as the favorite.
“I take everyone serious,” Farmer said. “It’s just in my nature. I train hard every time I fight, I come in shape every time, and I take everyone serious because it’s boxing; one shot can change the fight, so you always gotta be on point and always gotta be focused at all times. I know he (Tennyson) is coming to fight like anybody else and I know he wants to win the world championship like anybody else, so I’m always on point.”